Dwight Howard is good. Really good. He is one of the five best players in the world. He is the best center in the world. He is so good that he is in that special I-only-need-one-damn-name-because-THAT’S-how-good-I-am category. (Others: LeBron, Kobe, Dwyane.)
But here’s another thing about Dwight Howard, superstar, Olympian, Atlanta native, solid citizen, blahblahblah: He has jumped the rails. He can – and almost certainly will – opt out of his contract with the Orlando Magic following this season, assuming the team doesn’t trade him before that happens.
The Magic should have dealt Howard before the season. They have not handled this situation well, and now the Magic appear in the midst of an early-season crumble, having lost four straight and six of eight. But there’s one person who looks worse than anybody in the Orlando front office right now, and that’s Howard himself.
On Friday, he criticized his teammates after a 93-67 loss to the New Orleans Hornets, then 3-15. Quoting: “I look at guys and they don’t look like they want to play. “I told them at halftime, ‘If you don’t want to play, just stay in the locker room, because it don’t make sense for a team who we should beat to just demolish us.’”
He was right, of course. Nobody figured New Orleans would body slam Orlando, least of all anybody in New Orleans. The problem is that when it has become clear that a player has one foot out the door himself, he is no position to preach anything about resolve and team unity.
Consider: That same Howard who hammered his teammates for not having any team pride then turned around and told the Chicago Tribune he would be open to playing for the Bulls. “If I could play with Derrick [Rose] right now and God wanted that to happen, it will happen,” he said. “I love him. That’s my brother.”
Punctuation: Those comments to a Tribune reporter came the same night in New Orleans when Howard ripped his teammates (the Tribune didn’t report them until Monday morning). Seriously?
In the two games since, Howard has shot 4-for-15 and 5-for-13 from the free-throw line. Seems to me somebody needs to call him out.
Howard already has listed the Los Angeles Lakers, New Jersey, Dallas and, more recently, the Clippers as desired destinations. He has leverage because, while the Magic can trade him, no team is going to be willing to give up significant assets in a deal without assurances that Howard will sign a contract extension (or at the very least opt in for one more season on his contract).
The problem is the way Howard has handled this. He has openly asked for a trade. He has openly spoken of potential destinations. He has done things that even LeBron James didn’t do in his final season in Cleveland. For as much as James was hammered, he said very little about his free-agency plans (although there was the curious timing of the new Nike LeBron VII Low in December 2009, which had the “I Love New York” logo on the bottom).
Like Howard, James was asked about free agency in every city, but he generally declined comment.
Does this mean there will be less of a market for Howard? No. His talents compensate for all diva-tendencies in the minds of every NBA owner and general manager. That includes the Hawks.
But Howard’s act has not gone unnoticed around the league, and it’s fair to suggest that some are at least starting to wonder where his head is at.
James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh drew criticism for orchestrating their free-agency Mapquest ending in Miami, but they handled the season better than Howard has. If you doubt that, just look at what has happened to the Magic.
By Jeff Schultz